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Michigan Deciding Whether School Bake Sales Will Kill Kids Via Childhood Obesity

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186095499Pop quiz! Which of these things is currently illegal in public schools in the state of Michigan? A.) Openly carrying a handgun; or B.) Selling homemade treats to raise money for charity or school activities? Before you answer, I’m going to have to ask you to put down that cupcake and step away from the cash box with your hands over your head, please.

Yes, you read that right: in Michigan schools right now, openly-carried guns are considered safer than a tray of Mom’s best brownies. When new school nutrition guidelines were passed by the federal government last year, students’ ability to buy ready-to-eat treats during school hours was curtailed. Snacks available for sale during the school day have to meet strict limits for fat and sugar content–difficult metrics to measure in the traditional bake sale option of Ziploc baggies full of brownies, which don’t generally come printed with nutrition labels.

The new federal law left state governments with the option to set up exemptions for bake sales and other fundraisers if they so desired. About half the states have already set up such an allowance, and now Michigan lawmakers are debating whether or not to join them–or whether being able to buy the occasional cupcake is going to give Michigan students an instant case of Mega-Diabetes.

The idea that a ban on fundraisers is all that’s standing between kids and a dire future of childhood obesity is, to say the least, silly. Eating the odd cookie at lunch is a nice treat, and is a much healthier way to learn to interact with junk food than the idea that it is a terrible, forbidden death-trap that must be locked away at all costs. Plus, organizing this kind of fundraiser is a fairly simple way for kids to get hands-on experience acting as leaders and managing money–much simpler than trying to organize a third-party fundraiser to sell popcorn, cookie dough, or the dreaded magazine sales.

If passed, the pro-bake-sale Michigan bill would allow for up to two bake sale fundraisers per week, which is an impressively generous jump from zero per year. When I taught, there might have been four or five sales total spread out during both semesters, plus one candy-bar sale. Of course, people who work in schools might have plenty of good reasons you might want to put the kibosh on bake sales. They can be a distraction from learning; or if you have any students with severe allergies, the prospect of bringing in homemade goods of unknown provenance might be too risky. Or they might be sick of phone calls from parents who are certain they’re going to lose their minds if they have to bake one more tray of cupcakes. All good reasons!

But banning bake sale fundraisers altogether on the basis of the bogeyman of childhood obesity does more harm than good. It’s better for kids to learn how to manage money, work together, and eat treats in moderation than to learn that cookies are a scourge that must be avoided at all costs.

(Image: muratsenel / iStock / Getty)